Friday, September 17, 2010

Strange But True

Just having finished Nigel Cawthorn's "The Strange Laws of Old England", I thought I might share a couple with you.

No Law Against Flying: One Jane Wellman appeared before the Justice charged with withcraft in the 17th Century.  Witnesses said that they had seen her fly, and when asked if this was so, she replied that it was, whereupon the Justice remarked that there was no law against flying and she could continue to do so. 

The Cucking Stool: The medieval women's pillory - the "thew" - was replaced in in 16th century by the "cucking stool".  This was designed to subject the woman to public shame - it was later that the cucking stool became the ducking stool.

Make Up: Queen Elizabeth I made a law forbidding women to use "false hair, make up, false hips, high heeled shoes or other such devices" in order to get a man to the altar.  The penalty was punishment for witchcraft.

Escaping the Hangman: One of the earliest recorded "escapes" was of Inetta de Balsham, who was sentanced to hang during the reign of King Henry III.  Hanged at 9am Monday morning, Inetta was found still alive by the following Thursday!  How did she survive???  It was found that her windpipe had deteriorated and "ossified" or hardened, and as such, the rope did no damage.  She was pardoned by a very amazed King. 

Bigamy:  At one point in time, it was legal for a woman to be married to two men - however, this only applied if her first marriage was to a commoner and the second to a peer.  As a peeress, the woman had the right to be tried by the House of Lords - they however, would have been obliged to acquit her of such a crime for if found guilty, her first marriage would be found to be lawful; and as such, she would no longer be considered a peeress and would not fall within their jurisdiction.  However, if she was to be convicted by the Crown Court, her second marriage would have to be acknowledged, negating their jurisdiction!  What woman of the time would honestly subject herself to be governed by two men!

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